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									Christian spirituality
     Following the way of Jesus

                                                      April Yamasaki, Pastor
                                  Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Abbotsford, BC



     This text was originally presented as a sermon.

     L  ast year, while on my way to a conference in another city, I fell
     into conversation with the man seated next to me on the airplane.
     After the usual introductory comments—where are you going,
     where are you from—and after the usual polite inquiries—what do
     you do, how long have you worked there—our conversation
     turned to more serious matters of faith. “I do believe in a Higher
     Power,” the man said to me. “I’m a spiritual person.”
         Not long ago, I read an item in the newspaper about a Women
     of Faith rally held in Spokane, Washington. Twelve thousand
     women came together for the inspirational weekend of worship,
     prayer, and special speakers. One woman, who had flown in from
     Oregon to take part in the rally, said, “I’m very interested in
     things spiritual, as opposed to things religious.”
         Spirituality seems to be everywhere these days. Books on
     spirituality line the shelves of our bookstores. Christian radio
     stations and interfaith television networks offer a host of programs
     on religious and spiritual themes. A search for spirituality on the
     Internet yields 399 categories, 711 web-sites, 250,000 web pages.
         What’s more, there seem to be as many different definitions of
     spirituality as there are different people and different sources of
     information. To the man on the plane, spirituality meant a
     personal belief. To the woman at the rally, spirituality was
     something different from religion. One book promotes spiritual
     growth through meditation. Another book describes how to find
     your spirit guide. One TV program is devoted to Islam, another to
     Hinduism, another to Orthodox Christianity. One web page is
     devoted to spirituality in the workplace. Another is all about
     spirituality and humour.

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           So how are we to understand spirituality? Is it whatever we
       want to make of it? Is it religious? Is it Christian? Is there a
       Mennonite spirituality? If so, what does it mean for you and me?
           Perhaps one way to answer these questions would simply be to
       read Article 18 of our confession of faith, which is titled
       “Christian Spirituality.” This article talks about our relationship
       with God, about discipleship, about various spiritual disciplines,
       including prayer, study of Scripture, reflection on God, corporate
       worship. I read through all of that again as I thought about this
       theme. As I continued reading through the article and through
       the commentary that follows it, I came across this line: “Christian
       spirituality is defined by Christ and his way, in accordance with
       the Scriptures.” Christian spirituality is defined by Christ and his
       way, in accordance with the Scriptures. So perhaps another way of
       answering our questions about spirituality is to look at the life of
       Jesus. How did Jesus experience and express spirituality? What
       spiritual disciplines were part of Jesus’ life?

        Jesus’ spirituality
        From the Gospel accounts, it is clear that for Jesus, all of life was
        Spirit-led and Spirit-filled. Matt. 1:20 tells us that Jesus was
        conceived by the Holy Spirit. In Matt. 4:1, Jesus was led by the
        Spirit into the wilderness. In Luke 4:18, Jesus announced the start
                             of his public ministry with the words of the
     Jesus could see the
                             prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon
     kingdom of God in a
                             me.” Even on the cross Jesus cried out to God,
     farmer sowing seed
                             “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”
     or in a woman
                             (Luke 23:46). And three days after his death,
     baking bread. He
                             the Spirit of God raised Jesus from the dead
     could draw spiritual
                             (Rom. 8:11). All of Jesus’ life, death, and
     truth from the lilies
                             resurrection was marked by a spiritual
     of the field, the birds
                             awareness and a spiritual depth.
     of the air, or a cup
                                  In fact, during his earthly life, Jesus’
     of well water.
                             relationship with God was so close and so
        personal that he often talked about God—and often talked to
        God—as “my Father” (e.g., Matt. 10:32, 26:39; John 5:17, 15:1).
        Jesus could say, “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). Jesus
        could see the kingdom of God in a farmer sowing seed or in a
        woman baking bread. He could draw spiritual truth from the lilies

50     Vision     Fall 2000
     of the field, the birds of the air, or a cup of well water. Even at a
     wedding or a funeral or a dinner party, Jesus was aware of God’s
     presence and engaged in God’s work. All of Jesus’ life was
     spiritual, because he lived it all in a constant, personal
     relationship with God.
         For Jesus, spirituality was more than just the latest fad. It was a
     way of life. Spirituality was more than a weekend retreat of
     contemplation or a daily hour of meditation. It was an ongoing
     communion with God. Spirituality was more than belief in a
     supernatural power, more than an impersonal sense of oneness
     with nature. It was a personal relationship with a living God.
         One of the ways Jesus expressed this ongoing, living
     relationship with God was through prayer: “In the morning, while
     it was still very dark, [Jesus] got up and went out to a deserted
     place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). During the day, when
     Jesus had just fed a huge crowd of people with the five loaves and
     two fish, he dismissed them, sent his disciples off in a boat, and
     “after saying farewell to them, he went up on the mountain to
     pray” (Mark 6:46). After the Last Supper with his disciples, while
     even his closest followers were falling asleep, Jesus “threw himself
     on the ground and prayed” (Mark 14:35). According to the
     Gospel record, Jesus prayed in the morning, in the daytime,
     at night.
         In addition to prayer, Jesus’ spirituality also expressed itself in
     reading and reflecting on the Scriptures. In Matthew 4, when he
     was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, Jesus answered each
     temptation with the words of Scripture. In Luke 4:18, Jesus
     announced his public ministry by quoting from the scroll of Isaiah.
     In John 7:14–24 and in other portions of the Gospels, Jesus could
     talk with the religious authorities on their own terms and on their
     own topics and still astonish them with his teaching.
         Jesus’ spirituality also found expression in ethical action and
     good works. His prayer life and his understanding of Scripture
     were not practiced in otherworldly isolation. Instead, Jesus
     welcomed the outcast, fed the hungry, healed the sick, even raised
     the dead. Jesus called others to a personal relationship with God
     (John 17:3) and to holy living (Matt. 5:48). He taught them how
     to pray (Matt. 6:5–15). He taught them the truth of the
     Scriptures (Matt. 5:21–48; Luke 24:45). He sent them also to

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        share the good news of God’s kingdom and to continue his
        kingdom work (Luke 10:1–16; Matt. 28:18–20).
            These quick snapshots of Jesus’ own experience and practice of
        spirituality don’t give us a complete definition or discussion of his
        spirituality. But from the Gospels we have these glimpses of Jesus
        that demonstrate his personal relationship with God. We know
        that he spent time in prayer, in the study of Scripture, and in
        serving others. At times he withdrew from others to spend time
        alone (Mark 1:35). At times he fasted (Matt. 4:2). At times he
        worshiped with others and sang hymns (Matt. 26:30).
            These were all deliberate, concrete expressions of Jesus’
        spiritual life as recorded in the Gospels. His spirituality was
        religious in the best sense of the word—godly, devout, worshipful.
        But it was not religious in the sense of being rigid or legalistic. In
                               fact, Jesus criticized the religious
     In the religious
                               establishment for its legalism. Matt. 23:23:
     smorgasbord of
                               “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees,
     contemporary life,
                               hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and
     it may seem as if
                               cummin, and have neglected the weightier
     spirituality is
                               matters of the law: justice and mercy and
     whatever we want
                               faith. It is these you ought to have practiced
     to make of it. But
                               without neglecting the others.” In turn, the
     for Jesus, spirituality
                               religious establishment criticized Jesus for
     was not a matter of
                               being too liberal. He did not keep the
     “anything goes.”
                               Sabbath in the expected manner (Mark
        2:23–28; John 9:13–16). At one point, Jesus is even described
        as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and
        sinners” (Luke 7:34).
            In the spiritual smorgasbord of contemporary life, it may seem
        as if anything goes, as if spirituality is whatever we want to make
        of it. And perhaps that’s what the religious establishment of Jesus’
        day thought about Jesus’ way of life—that instead of following
        their tradition of spirituality based on the law, Jesus was making
        up his own brand of spirituality with his own rules.
            But for Jesus, spirituality was not a matter of “anything goes.”
        When asked about the greatest commandment in the Law, he
        said, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and
        with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and
        first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your

52     Vision     Fall 2000
     neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the
     law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:37–40).
         In the same way, Jesus’ life of spirituality was also grounded in
     these two commandments, in loving God and in loving
     neighbour. His personal relationship with God, his prayer life, his
     study of Scripture, his times of worship, solitude, and fasting were
     all part of loving God. And in loving his neighbour as himself,
     Jesus called others to the same way of life through his preaching,
     teaching, and miraculous works. Jesus’ spirituality was a
     spirituality of loving both God and neighbour.

     Spirituality today
     During a study leave from my congregation, I’ve been visiting
     different churches to experience and explore different ways of
     worship. Or, in the terms of this sermon, I could say I’ve been
     visiting different churches to experience and explore different
     expressions of spirituality.
         One Sunday, I worshiped in a Roman Catholic church. At the
     front of the sanctuary was a large altar, and behind the altar were
     two sets of benches placed facing one another. The worship
     service began with a processional of priests and assistants—all
     men and boys—who took their places at the two sets of benches.
     There were books with several different orders of service, but no
     one provided verbal instructions about which page to start on.
     That hardly seemed to matter. All of the men and boys on the
     front benches, and most of the congregation, seemed to know
     what to do—which page to turn to, when to kneel, when to stand,
     when to cross themselves. At certain points, there was the smell of
     incense, the sound of bells, and chanting from those who sat at
     the front.
         I was struck by the otherworldliness of it all. There was a sense
     of mystery, of holiness, of an orderliness understood only by those
     who had been given special knowledge. I felt as if the worship in
     that place would have carried on whether or not I had been there
     that morning—as if those on the benches at the front of the
     sanctuary would have continued their chants and prayers even if
     no one else had been in the congregation.
         Another Sunday, I worshiped at a United Church late
     afternoon jazz vespers service. The service began with a welcome

53   Following the way of Jesus   Yamasaki
     to the congregation and to the guest musicians—in this case, a
     jazz band of about 20 men and women. There was a printed order
     of service, but each musician and each piece of music was also
     verbally introduced by name. Between each piece of music was a
     prayer or a Scripture reading with a brief reflection provided by
     the minister. The service ended with a few brief announcements,
     more introductions, and an invitation to coffee with the musicians
     in the church foyer.
         The worship service seemed part concert, part fireside chat.
     Instead of mystery, there were clear introductions and clear
     instructions. Instead of separation between leaders and
     congregation, there was a sense of participation in a common
     experience. The worship was inviting but not pushy, informal and
     personal, a thoughtful service that encouraged reflection.
         One Saturday evening, I worshiped at a contemporary-style
     Mennonite Brethren church. The worship began with
     congregational singing led by a music team, composed of a lead
     singer-guitarist, four backup singers, and several other musicians
     with guitars, drums, and saxophone. The music team and the
     words for each song were projected on two large screens at the
     front of the sanctuary. Later, the theme for the worship service was
     introduced on one of the screens with a clip from the movie Toy
     Story. About half of the service was singing, with the other half
     devoted to the pastor’s sermon.
         Here, the worship felt almost like an evening at the theatre.
     Instead of mystery and otherworldliness, there was a sense of
     familiarity and informality. It was the middle of summer, and the
     pastor and many in the congregation were dressed in shorts. The
     sermon was down-to-earth and practical. The music, sound
     system, and movie clip were professionally done. The worship was
     casual, personal, with an emphasis on participation.
         Three different churches, three different spiritualities. Or were
     they really different? I’m still thinking them over in light of Jesus’
     spirituality. We don’t have a comprehensive checklist of
     spirituality dos and don’ts. Perhaps Jesus felt that would be too
     legalistic to leave with his disciples. But we can set these
     experiences—and any other spiritual experience or spiritual
     practice—in the context of Scripture, in the light of Jesus’ own
     experience and expression of spirituality. We can ask ourselves:

54   Vision    Fall 2000
     1. Does this experience or practice draw us into a deeper and
        more personal relationship with God?
     2. Does it draw us to prayer and to Scripture?
     3. Does it result in a life of ethical action and good works?
     4. Is this experience or practice grounded in love for God and
        neighbour?
     5. Does it lead us to Christ and his way in accordance with the
        Scriptures?

         In our world today, we are faced with many different
     definitions of spirituality, many different ways of expressing
     spirituality. But Christian spirituality, Mennonite spirituality, is
     defined by Christ and his way, in accordance with the Scriptures.
     So let us follow Jesus in faith, in life, in a spirituality that comes
     from a personal relationship of love for God and love for others.




55   Following the way of Jesus   Yamasaki

								
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